By Herbert Musoke and Joshua Kato
“I want a pack of cashew nuts,” a lady in one of the leading supermarkets says.
She is led to a shelf where she is heard exclaiming.
“This is too expensive. This is too small for sh12,000,” she says.
The attendant nods her head, before saying: “But this is one of the cheapest for 75gm.”
The roasted nut was an import from Tanzania. Cashew nut growing was one of the enterprises that raised a lot of interest during the 2023 Harvest Money expo.
Big potential in dry areas According to experts, the tree nut can be grown in semi-arid areas, for example, the cattle corridor.
This stretches from the southwest to the northeast of Uganda, covering about 40% of the country’s land with one of the country’s most fragile ecosystems.
As farmers in these areas are scratching their heads to find answers on how to survive in this natural dry environment, cashew nut trees could be the answer they are seeking.
Patrick Joseph Okilan, an expert with National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO) and a cashew nut farmer, explains that the cattle corridor in Uganda, with semi-arid conditions, is conducive for cashew nut production, just like many parts in Tanzania, which is East Africa’s biggest producer of this crop.
“Over reliance on cattle as an income earner, with the milk and beef production fluctuations due to lack of rains and pastures, leaves cashew nuts as the answer to the outcry for survival,” he explains.
The unpredictable rainfall and scarcity of water calls for solutions, not lamentation.
Tanzania is not gifted with water bodies like Uganda, but cashew nut contributes 10%- 15% of its foreign exchange earnings annually.
Therefore, this is a new strategic crop for food consumption, encouraging long-term sustainability as it lasts for over 100 years.
Across the cattle corridor in Uganda, there are several farmers growing cashew nuts already, especially in Nakasongola, Nakaseke, Kiryandongo and Nwoya districts.
Global market trends According to Tridge, a global source hub on food and agriculture, Vietnam led in the export of cashew nuts— both fresh and dried — in 2020 at $2.3b, accounting for 65%, followed by India in second position fetching $408m (11%), Netherlands $271m (8%), Germany $201m (6%) and Brazil $74m (2%).
In Africa, Ivory Coast was the world’s largest producer, with 793,000 metric tonnes in 2019. Vietnam was ranked third as it produced 283,000 tonnes.
Overall, the estimated world cashew nuts requirement is 12 million tonnes, but just about four million tonnes is produced, leaving a deficit of eight million tonnes.
Florence Kata is the director of Prime Agro Ltd, which has established a nursery bed, in partnership with Uganda Cashew nut and Tree Ltd in Zirobwe town council-Luweero in the efforts to promote the growth and production of the nuts in Luwero and central Uganda in general.
She says the main aim is to introduce cashew nut trees as a perennial cash crop in Luwero and the central region by encouraging smallholder cashew nut production and productivity as an additional source of income for the livelihood of farmers.
“With the available evidence about the benefits of cashew nuts, we want to encourage Ugandans to take up the crop with a bigger dream of making this place a one-stop centre for cashew nuts. It will be a place where farmers can learn, acquire quality planting seedlings, market for the harvest and establish a processing plant, such that we handle the whole value chain,” Kata explains.
A steady money maker Okilan says the crop was first introduced in Uganda in the 1970s by traders. However, due to the political instabilities at the time and the fact that the crop needs special care during the early period, the trees died out.
They were reintroduced in the early 2000s by NARO and have since been grown by a few farmers.
“This crop is very profitable to the extent that in Tanzania, for one to trade in cashew nuts, one must obtain a buying licence from the Cashew Nut board of Tanzania and a dispatch note from any corporate union, among other requirements. So, we intend to promote its growth in Uganda such that we can also benefit from its revenue,” Okilan says.
Dixon Kyaba Tukam, the executive director of Cashew Farmers and Promoters National Association of Uganda Ltd, an organisation that promotes its growth, says with the many dynamics that have changed in farming and the environment, evident with the unpredictable seasons, cashew nuts are the answer as they do not require much water.
“For a long time, Uganda’s economy has been dependent on coffee. But for the past years, we have seen more crops emerging. Also, with the diseases and pests that keep cropping up, it is to our advantage to introduce new cash crops that can supplement the existing ones,” he says.
Kyaba adds that with the diverse effects of environmental degradation resulting from the cutting down of trees, cashew nut trees will help n mitigate the damages caused as they are trees with thick canopies and can last many years.
How to grow cashew trees
Managing nursery bed: Okilan says when planting the cashew tree, the nursery is the beginning and the success of the farm.
If the seedling gets any defaults from the nursery, it will affect the trees in the main garden and so will be the case during harvest. Ensure that the place where you are going to place your nursery bed is slanted, such that there is no water logging. This is because the seedlings are very delicate.
Keep all possible destructive animals such as goats, stray dogs and chicks away from your nursery bed.
Potting or directly in soils?
Kyaba says although cashew seeds can be planted directly in the garden, developing them through nursery beds is the best option as the farmer will have a 90% assurance of the viability of the seeds.
The nursery bed also protects the plants from pests such as lizards that eat the buds.
Nursery: Here, first soak the seeds in water for three days, with each session lasting three hours. Change the water every day.
The shade should be temporary because when the seeds germinate, they should be kept for only two weeks in the soils, before they are potted.
If they stay longer, there will be an increased risk of being attacked by fungal diseases. Fungal diseases affect the growth of stems and leaves.
Also, there should be no trees around to bring shades.
Water: You need to have a source of water nearby, preferably an open source well or dam, but if you are to use metred water, keep it in drums for 24 hours before using it to reduce the effect of the chemicals used to treat the water. Overall, the seedlings need less water compared to, for example, matooke or coffee. In the dry season, they need at least three litres per week.
Trans plant: Seedlings must be transplanted within three months because if they over stay, they coil up and when taken to the garden, they may become big and heavy, and then break.
Also, when the taproot grows into the ground, it will force the coiled area to straighten and eventually break, causing the tree to dry out. Alternatively, when the taproot grow and you cut it, it will never develop again.
Cashew has a poor rooting system with lateral roots that do not go deep. Since you already cut the taproot, it will develop secondary roots, which are also lateral.
As a result, when the tree grows and the canopy becomes heavy and the wind blows, it will be swinging, breaking the roots and eventually drying out.
At the time of transportation to the garden, make sure there is enough moisture in the pot soils three days to the date of transplanting.
Avoid immediate loading because they will start shrinking in the vehicle and by the time you reach the destination, a quarter will have died. They will also die if they overstay before they are planted.
According to Dixon Kyaba Tukam, the executive director of Cashew Farmers and Promoters National Association of Uganda Ltd, an acre takes about 60-70 trees, if a farmer uses a spacing of 10×10 metres. Each seedling costs sh6,000, which means that a farmer needs sh360,000 for an acre.
Digging each of the 60-70 planting pits costs sh2,000, which means that a farmer spends from sh120,000- sh150,000 on the activity.
Land preparation for an acre costs an average of sh400,000. Farmers are advised to intercrop the young trees with short-term crops, such as ordinary beans, mucuna beans or soya.
These do not only give the farmer food and money to manage the farm, but also add nitrogen to the soils.
Nitrogen helps in the development of the trees. General management includes weeding at least twice a year and pruning.
Kyaba says the trees will start yielding after at least three years.
“During the first year of harvest, each tree produces about 6kg of nuts. At farm gate, a kilogramme goes for sh85,000 -sh90,000, which means that a farmer can earn as much as sh400,000 or more from each tree,” he says.
If all the 60 trees are producing at least 6kg, this totals sh24m per acre.
“As the trees grow bigger, they increase production to at least 10kg per year,” Kyaba says.
In supermarkets countrywide, a pack of 75g costs between sh10,000 and sh12,000. From a kilogramme, according to Kyaba, a processor gets as many as 12 packs, generating at least sh120,000.
Okilan explains that before getting the seedlings from the nursery bed, you must have cleared the area designated for planting.
It should be flat and not water-logged.
“Peg the area in accordance to the spacing you choose from the three spacing types. One of the spacing is 6mX6m if you do not want to intercrop, but this spacing is for a short time such that when they start meeting, you start eliminating the middle trees, such that you leave spaces of 12mX12m, which is the standard spacing,” he says.
The other spacing is 10mX10m, but after 10-12 years, the trees will start intersecting. However, here, you only need to trim the end of the canopy.
This is because cashew trees do not fruit in areas with shades that cause low temperatures. They require high temperatures to flower and fruit, and less rain for the fruits to grow.
Planting Dig a hole of 2ft x 2ft, separate the black soil about 6 inches from the red soil and put the red soil aside. Get good matured soil and refill the hole completely, leaving no depression and use the red soil to make a mound.
Do not use artificial fertilisers because they will make the plants grow so fast and delay fruiting — a tree that would have bore fruit at one-and-a-half years can delay for another year.
It’s better to use matured soils and keep the garden free of weeds. Manure should be applied every 4-5 years for best harvests the following year.
Diseases Okilan says the most devastating cashew nut diseases are powdery mildew, Anthracnose and dieback.
“These are the major diseases, but they are manageable. However, they should be treated quickly as they can spread very fast,” he explains.
“We have entered a public-private arrangement with the National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS) to support the expansion of cashew nuts growing in the country,” Dixon Kyaba Tukam, the executive director of Cashew Farmers and Promoters National Association of Uganda Ltd, says.
He explains that what a farmer, who already has land prepared for the enterprise does is to pay 30% of the cost of the seedlings, while the government, through NAADS and the cashew nuts farmers association, caters for the 70%.
While explaining this at the Harvest Money Expo, NAADS executive director Dr Samuel Mugasi said it will give farmers better ownership of the enterprises.
“Previously, we used to give away farm inputs to farmers at no cost, but we realised that many never appreciated them. However, under this cofunding programme, only serious farmers take up the seedlings,” Mugasi says.